Tiny House – Maximum Space

A lot of people don’t shift gears and think about HOW space is used when they start thinking about downsizing. You don’t go into pre-design and design modes thinking that small spaces will work the same way large  ones do.

We’re doing a LOT of 20′ High Cube Tiny House/Retreats. Families are “discovering” ISBU structures by first building cabins and fishing/hunting camps. A huge part of this exercise is the discovery about how you actually USE space.

Some families designs are dedicated to plans that separate the sleeping and bath areas from the rest of the interior like you would in  traditional home. I want you to think about this for a moment.  You have a box with a 7’8″ x 19’4″ (depending on how you frame your exterior opening) interior to work with.

This space isn’t that much different than MOST of the Tiny House Plans we see floating around the Internet.

IF you separate space using some kind of partitions, essentially carving a small space into even smaller spaces, you’re quickly going to discover that you can’t breathe.

WHY would you separate the bedroom from the rest of the available space when it’s so finite to start with? That doesn’t make sense.

I hear people talk about insuring that the bed and the bath are close together. Hello! It’s a 20′ box.! Your bedroom/sleeping space is going to be close to the bathroom, no matter what you do, unless you put the bathroom in a separate structure. It doesn’t matter which end of your structure you enter, the outcome is going to be the same. It’s unavoidable.

Let’s do some math;

Start with a 19′ long interior space.
Subtract 8 feet for your “bedroom”.
Now subtract 4′ feet for your bathroom (on the opposite end of your space).
What’s that leave for your “life space” in the middle?

7 feet, if you’re lucky. Now, factor in door swings for your bathroom and your bedroom doors. Congrats! You’re either an inhabitant of Lilliput or you’re  screwed.

What you’ve effectively accomplished is to reduce your living space (which you’ll be using the lion’s share of the time) to less space than your “sleeping space” (that you’ll be using LESS of the time).

Let’s look at this another way;

If you COMBINED the kitchen, dining, living, working and sleeping spaces into one primary space, you can have at least 15+ feet to use for MOST of your time in the structure. And you can still put your bed near the bathroom, if that’s really an issue.

Doing that, combining all those spaces into one large element  opens the space up. Want to open it up some more? Frame a set of big French doors into the middle of the box. It’s far more effective to enter the center of a space like this, The entry (and the light passing through it) actually visually divides spaces without using walls or obstructions. Use the LIGHT to divide the box interior into separate spaces. Suck as much light as you can into that space.

Bring the outside in and open up the sight lines to the outdoors.

Build a deck off that set of doors to increase your living space by using that outdoor deck as lounging area. (Of course it’s use will be seasonal. Some of us live in places where it snows. Some of you live in spaces where it gets too warm to sit out on that deck.)

The idea is to keep the walls from closing in on you.

Speaking of walls;

You don’t need as much wall space as you think. For example – when living in an almost 8′ wide box, you don’t need a widescreen TV. You’re sitting MUCH closer to the TV than you would in a large space. You don’t NEED a 32″-50″ LCD TV. You don’t have any trouble working on your laptop with a 17″ display, right? Put a DVD in your laptop and then move it to the back of your desk and then lean back in your chair. 17″ is still easy to watch a movie on. Small spaces require less display to yield that same “boom” factor.

And, if you’re going to use a decent laptop computer in your space because it takes up less space (both when being used and when stored away) you already HAVE a HD TV to watch movies and television programming on. Plus, you can put that media device anywhere you want. It’s portable.

Space is at a premium and you need to learn to build multi-tasking spaces.

For example, if your bed folds up against the wall when you aren’t using it, you can build a fold out table onto the bottom of that mattress frame. Now, your bed is a dining room table… or a desk… or a prep counter for cooking.

Remember that a 20′ High Cube Container (or ANY shipping container) still needs a “real” roof. That corrugation on the top is NOT structural. It isn’t load bearing. If you don’t believe me, go up there and jump around. As that roof deflects (and probably scares the crap out of you as you realize that jumping too hard will land you in the bottom of that box…) you’ll see exactly what I mean.

Plus, you need to be able to shed rain and snow, right? Why not add a pitched roof to increase the interior volume of your space? And think about the ways that all that created volume can be used.

TIP: Resist the urge to believe these guys who tell you that it’s okay to turn a container upside down so that the original floor framing is then used to support a roof. That’s nonsense. A container isn’t designed to remain structural when turned upside down. All you do is dramatically weaken your structure.  It DOESN’T work like that.

Despite the fact that the US Military did exactly that in places like Pakistan and Afghanistan, the environment that they did it in is “short term” and arid. These “flipped” Conex boxes aren’t going to last the test of time. It won’t happen there and it probably won’t happen where YOU live. Do that in a place where you have to deal with “wet loads” like water soaked dirt or snow and you’ll quickly find out that you’re going to probably die in your sleep… when the roof or walls collapse because they were never designed to be anything but thin walls meant to define space. They are NOT structural.

And before  I get a hundred more requests for instructions  about how you bury a container to turn it into a bunker or storage facility, I say this;

Burying shipping containers is a no-no.

Only IDIOTS bury shipping containers.  Understand?

The only structural part of a container is it’s massive end frames. The 14 gauge corrugated walls will NOT withstand the loads of the earth you’ll bury them with. Add rain or snow and you’ll quickly discover that you’re in a coffin, not a bunker. Just don’t do it. To reinforce a container to withstand burial, the structure you add will eliminate the need for the container in the first place.

I’ve personally dug out bodies from collapsed containers. It’s not pretty and you don’t want it to happen to you or someone that you love.

TIP: If you have to bury something, use Concrete PIPE or CMP (Corrugated Metal Pipe). It comes in several gauges of wall thickness (from 18 gauge to about 8 gauge) and  diameters up to about 177″. Got it?

There’s a lot more to think about and we’re going to discuss “small space design” over the next few months, as our families start working toward building “vacation getaways” and “fallback cabins” next Spring.

Stay tuned.


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